24 May 2011

The Reasonableness Standard

Let's be reasonable folks.

Seriously, how frustrating is it to deal with unreasonable people? They pretty much suck.

I have never had an unreasonable boss, nor have I had unreasonable teachers. I have dealt with unreasonable people, though. (Why are they, more often than not, government employees?)

Every teenager has unreasonable parents, and cops are generally unreasonable when they pull you over; are they not?

So we all know unreasonable when we see it.

At any rate, an unreasonable person in authority—whether she's a boss, teacher, wife, or other leader—is cheating herself.

We ought to stand up, as a people, and demand reasonableness from our leaders.

An example is in order here. An Army officer I knew on my overseas deployment, who we'll call Col. Jerkface, always said "no" reflexively. He looked for opportunities to say no to his troops. Any time there was a request for any type of amenity, the answer was "no."

Moreover, there was absolutely no pleasing this man. He looked for failure in his subordinates. You could never say the right thing, or do anything to make him proud. He was, in a word, unreasonable.

Did he ever get the best from his troops? Absolutely not! Some would say that his cantankerousness was the source of his effectiveness. Baloney. Yes, unreasonable people sometimes do get things done, but I would argue that he’d be even more effective if he was a little more reasonable.

Oh, I just thought of a better example of unreasonableness in action. Again, from the Army (we are proving the government employee rule, here).

In a class at my advanced Army journalism training, we were delivered a lecture via PowerPoint. Now these slideshows tended to be 40 or 50 slides long, chalk-full of text and dense information.

At test time, one particular question threw the entire class for a nut roll. To a man, we complained that we hadn’t gone over the information being tested. The instructor was skeptical of our pleas for leniency, but we stood firm in our defense.

This man scoured the slides for an oblique reference to the question material, and he found one. Never minding that he had skipped over that slide without mentioning it, he left us on the hook for the question.


Students need to operate in a real world environment. The real world, we like to teach them, is reasonable. In fact, we need to be to teaching them the lessons that supposedly buttress ours. Hard work, deadlines, follow though, manners—they are all rewarded in the real world because most people are reasonable.

If the world were populated only by Col. Jerkfaces or the instructors who find remote test questions from interminable lectures, then there wouldn’t be any incentive to do those things. Unreasonable people are arbitrary, and did I mention that they pretty much suck?

Let me now tell you how to be reasonable. If a student is sick, let him make up work. If a student needs help, help her. If a student doesn’t have access to a computer, work something else out.

A common practice for good teachers is to eliminate questions from a test that the entire class misunderstands. One of my students misread a question and answered the wrong question correctly. I knew she understood the material, so I made arrangements for her to earn the points.

We can get our jobs done while being reasonable. It is not a sign of weakness.

So the new standard is the reasonableness standard.

What are some horror stories from your organizations of people who don't meet it?


  1. I agree. Unreasonable people suck.

    We have a Thailand manager whose first answer is always, "No - that won't work for Thailand." Inevitably the idea always DOES work for Thailand, but the hours we waste trying to convince this guy to move forward! The inefficiency is staggering.

  2. Amen! There are always ways to separate the b.s. (which we DO get all the time from students) from the reasonable requests.

    "A common practice for good teachers is to eliminate questions from a test that the entire class misunderstands." Absolutely! But if you went over something again and again and 1/3 of the class aced the question(s), it might be - gasp! - that they are the 1/3 to 40% that actually graduates in this country from college. LOL

    In sum, teachers find reasonable ways to determine what is reasonable!

  3. My example: I enrolled in a 2 credit hour Medical Terminology course as a prerequisite for Nursing School.
    MT was an online class, and followed a strict, regimented e-text and assessment webpage. NO extra credit was offered, so students could only miss two questions per test (15 assessments in total.)
    Since our assessments (or exams) were online, we could use our books and notes from the Learning Modules. Sounds easy, right? Wrong.
    Sadly, our teacher's plan backfired.
    What if the question is written poorly? What if the answer is wrong altogether?
    Unreasonable professors and teachers who blame the text, or the book, or ME for pointing out the mistakes written by those who create the tests should be docked their pay, or suffer some form of punishment for their blatant attempts to put my reaction on the back burner.
    Ms Brainless: "Everyone else in the class got the answer right, and you didn't."
    KW: "Actually, my answer is correct, the test's answer is WRONG. Here's what the text says, as does the corresponding additional text for the course and the Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary agrees with me also."
    Ms. Brainless: "Well I cannot certainly go back and change all of the other students score just because you picked up on one small inconsistency, can I?"
    KW: "If you want to do your damn job correctly, then hell yes you go back and change it!"
    My professor was unreasonable and did NOT change the fifteen questions that were poorly written.
    However, the story ends with a smile. I found the Department Head of Health Sciences to be VERY reasonable and I received my "A" rather than my "A-" grade. I also accepted the offer to edit and revise future assessments for that course as a bonus.

    1. Sounds like an example of an insecure teacher. Sometimes being reasonable requires a little humility, to recognize that we make mistakes and we need to be willing to acknowledge that and fix them.